As I tinker with dialog systems at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, primarily by prototyping Alexa skills, I often wonder what AI is still lacking to build good conversational systems, punting the social challenge to another day. This post is my take on where AI has a good chance to improve and consequently, what we can expect from the next wave of conversational systems.
In our work at ZipfWorks building and scaling intelligent shopping platforms and applications, we pay close attention to emerging trends impacting digital commerce such as chatbots and mobile commerce. As this nascent trend towards a more conversational commerce ecosystem unfolds at a dizzying pace, we felt it would be useful to take a step back and look at the major initiatives and forces shaping this trend and compiled them here in this report. We’ve applied some of these concepts in our current project Dealspotr, to help more shoppers save more money through intelligent use of technology and social product design.
Tay, an AI chatbot that learns from previous interaction, caused major controversy due to it being targeted by internet trolls on Twitter. The bot was exploited, and after 16 hours began to send extremely offensive Tweets to users. This suggests that although the bot learnt effectively from experience, adequate protection was not put in place to prevent misuse.
Chatbots can have varying levels of complexity and can be stateless or stateful. A stateless chatbot approaches each conversation as if it was interacting with a new user. In contrast, a stateful chatbot is able to review past interactions and frame new responses in context. Adding a chatbot to a company's service or sales department requires low or no coding; today, a number of chatbot service providers that allow developers to build conversational user interfaces for third-party business applications.
Your first question is how much of it does she want? 1 litre? 500ml? 200? She tells you she wants a 1 litre Tropicana 100% Orange Juice. Now you know that regular Tropicana is easily available, but 100% is hard to come by, so you call up a few stores beforehand to see where it’s available. You find one store that’s pretty close by, so you go back to your mother and tell her you found what she wanted. It’s $2, maybe $3, and after asking her for the money, you go on your way.
As artificial intelligence continues to evolve (it’s predicted that AI could double economic growth rates by 2035), conversational bots are becoming a powerful tool for businesses worldwide. By 2020, it’s predicted that 85% of customers’ relationship with businesses will be handled without engaging a human at all. Businesses are even abandoning their mobile apps to adopt conversational bots.
A chatbot is an artificial intelligence (AI) program that simulates interactive human conversation by using key pre-calculated user phrases and auditory or text-based signals. Chatbots are frequently used for basic customer service and marketing systems that frequent social networking hubs and instant messaging (IM) clients. They are also often included in operating systems as intelligent virtual assistants.
How: this is a relatively simple flow to manage, and it could be one part of a much larger bot if you prefer. All you'll need to do is set up the initial flow within Chatfuel to ask the user if they'd like to subscribe to receive content, and if so, how frequently they would like to be updated. Then you can store their answer as a variable that you use for automation.
Do the nature of our services and size of our customer base warrant an investment in a more efficient and automated customer service response? How can we offer a more streamlined experience without (necessarily) increasing costly human resources? Amtrak’s website receives over 375,000 daily visitors, and they wanted a solution that provided users with instant access to online self-service.
However, as irresistible as this story was to news outlets, Facebook’s engineers didn’t pull the plug on the experiment out of fear the bots were somehow secretly colluding to usurp their meatbag overlords and usher in a new age of machine dominance. They ended the experiment due to the fact that, once the bots had deviated far enough from acceptable English language parameters, the data gleaned by the conversational aspects of the test was of limited value.
[…] But how can simple code assimilate something as complex as speech in only the span of a handful of years? It took humans hundreds of generations to identify, compose and collate the English language. Chatbots have a one up on humans, because of the way they dissect the vast data given to them. Now that we have a grip on the basics, we’ll understand how chatbots work in the next series. […]
Why are chatbots important? A chatbot is often described as one of the most advanced and promising expressions of interaction between humans and machines. However, from a technological point of view, a chatbot only represents the natural evolution of a Question Answering system leveraging Natural Language Processing (NLP). Formulating responses to questions in natural language is one of the most typical Examples of Natural Language Processing applied in various enterprises’ end-use applications.
Unfortunately the old adage of trash in, trash out came back to bite Microsoft. Tay was soon being fed racist, sexist and genocidal language by the Twitter user-base, leading her to regurgitate these views. Microsoft eventually took Tay down for some re-tooling, but when it returned the AI was significantly weaker, simply repeating itself before being taken offline indefinitely.
I argued that it is super hard to scale a one-trick TODA into a general assistant that helps the user getting things done across multiple tasks. An intelligence assistant is arguably expected to hold an informal chit-chat with the user. It is this area where we are staring into perhaps the biggest challenge of AI. Observe how Samantha introduces herself to Joaquin Phoenix’s Ted in the clip below:
The idea was to permit Tay to “learn” about the nuances of human conversation by monitoring and interacting with real people online. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Tay to figure out that Twitter is a towering garbage-fire of awfulness, which resulted in the Twitter bot claiming that “Hitler did nothing wrong,” using a wide range of colorful expletives, and encouraging casual drug use. While some of Tay’s tweets were “original,” in that Tay composed them itself, many were actually the result of the bot’s “repeat back to me” function, meaning users could literally make the poor bot say whatever disgusting remarks they wanted.
In 2000 a chatbot built using this approach was in the news for passing the “Turing test”, built by John Denning and colleagues. It was built to emulate the replies of a 13 year old boy from Ukraine (broken English and all). I met with John in 2015 and he made no false pretenses about the internal workings of this automaton. It may have been “brute force” but it proved a point: parts of a conversation can be made to appear “natural” using a sufficiently large definition of patterns. It proved Alan Turing’s assertion, that this question of a machine fooling humans was “meaningless”.
Interface designers have come to appreciate that humans' readiness to interpret computer output as genuinely conversational—even when it is actually based on rather simple pattern-matching—can be exploited for useful purposes. Most people prefer to engage with programs that are human-like, and this gives chatbot-style techniques a potentially useful role in interactive systems that need to elicit information from users, as long as that information is relatively straightforward and falls into predictable categories. Thus, for example, online help systems can usefully employ chatbot techniques to identify the area of help that users require, potentially providing a "friendlier" interface than a more formal search or menu system. This sort of usage holds the prospect of moving chatbot technology from Weizenbaum's "shelf ... reserved for curios" to that marked "genuinely useful computational methods".